Summertime is finally about here. Warm evenings on the front porch or perhaps the back deck are a great time of year for Rosé wine. Rose’s are made around the world, but, when I think Rosé, I think Provence, France. One-half of all rosé wine made in France comes from Provence. It is there that these wines are part of the lifestyle. The most enjoyable bottle of wine I ever had (not necessarily the best) was at an outdoor sidewalk café called La Piazza in Cannes France. The film festival was going on. There were beautiful people and incredible cars going by. The day was warm with great breezes coming in off the sea. The wine itself (Chateau Rasque Rosé) was technically average, but on that occasion it was perfect. Such are the Rosés from Provence.
Provence lies in the southeast corner of France meandering along the Mediterranean Riviera. It is called the Cotes d’Azur in French because of the stunning blueness of the sky. It stretches from Marseilles to Nice along the coast and a corresponding strip inland to the base of the alpine hills. It is thought that it was the Phoenicians who first brought grapes to this region around 500BC. Wine has been produced in Provence since the Roman times. Julius Caesar wrote about them in his diaries. The wines of Provence reached their zenith of popularity in the 1700’s. Today, they are much more popular locally than in the world market.
The rosés of Provence are dry wines but they have plenty of fruit. Often displaying itself as strawberries or watermelon, the best ones verge on tasting sweet due to the ripeness of the fruit. They are great wines to drink before a meal or with a lighter lunch or dinner. They go great with goat cheese and seafood; foods popular in Provencal cuisine. That said there is a wide variety in the wines, depending on the grapes used and the actual site of the vineyard. The vineyards vary in climate, distance to the sea and soil structure. The best ones, for my tastes, use Rhone varietal grapes and are from areas closer to the Mediterranean. Often I find the rosés with the lighter colors (think salmon versus electric pink) tend to be more interesting, but that is a gross generalization. My only complaint is that some of wineries push the alcohol levels in an effort to get more fruit flavor. This more often than not leaves them with a bitter almost scorched finish. For this reason, I look for rosés with under 14.0% Alc.
The AOC wine labeling laws divide up Provence into sub-regions. The most important of these wines are labeled as Cotes du Provence, Bandol, Coteau d’Aix en Provence, Baux de Provence, Cassis, Coteaux Varois, Bellet or Palette. Cotes du Provence is the largest of these and accounts for 75% of all wine production in Provence. Of that nearly 80% of it is Rosé. Most of that is made from Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre grapes. With the exception of Bandol, the other regions make nice enjoyable wines. Bandol has developed a worldwide reputation for it wines that are based heavily on Mourvedre.
Two producers stand out as making the very best rosés in Provence. They are Domaine Ott and Domaine Tempier. Domaine Ott is a collection of three estates in Provence. Chateau Romasson in Bandol, Clos Mirielle which lies along the Mediterranean, and Chateau de Selle which is much farther inland. Each estate makes wines of a different style. Chateau de Selle makes one rosé while Chateau Romasson produces three different ones. They are blends of Cinsault, Grenache or Mourvèdre in differing combinations. In addition, they make a les Domaniers that is more of a generic rosé. These are not inexpensive, especially for rosés. Les Domaniers usually runs around $20 while the single chateau bottling cost between $30 and $50. Domaine Ott also uses a distinctively shaped bottle that is easily recognizable. These are excellent rosé’s and I would happily drink a bottle if you are buying. I have trouble paying $40 though, even for a quality rosé.
The other giant in Provence rosé is Domaine Tempier. They produce only AOC Bandol wines of which around 30% are rosés. Tempier traces its roots back to the early 1700’s with the family taking over in 1834. This Domaine is arguably more famous for its line of reds but it has a legion of devoted fans for their rosé. Indeed, I think it is, year in and year out, the finest rosé made in Provence. It is also not cheap and retails for $35.
There are other good rosés in every market that I continue to enjoy year after year. The good news is that most of these are available for under $20. Commanderie la Bargemone makes two. One of my favorite rosés is their base wine called Coteaux d’Aix en Provence which sells for $15. They also make a wonderful wine called the Cuvee Marina which costs only a few dollars more. Another personal favorite is the Chateau Roquefort Corail. Weighing in around 12.5% alc., this is a lighter wine with great texture and fruit. It should be available for around $16. Chateau Rouet also makes two Rosés Cuvees, both good, including the Esterelle and Reservee. Both cost around $15.
There are a lot more rosés on the market. Almost any establishment that sells wines brings in anywhere from a few to a dozen each spring. The quality of these wines is getting better all the time. My only caveat would be that these are wines meant to be drunk within the first year or two from vintage. It is their youthful freshness and fruitiness that makes them so good. Some can age and become interesting and complex wines with age. Certainly Domaine Ott’s and Domaine Tempier’s are capable of ageing for three to five years.
I urge you all to go out and try a bottle or two. Make some of your own memories. These are not the greatest wines in the world, but they will enhance your meal or evening. Please let me know about your discoveries.
Loren Sonkin is an IntoWine.com Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars.